Danela Butler,17 (front), Kwame Kang,15, and Jordan Leonard, 16, participants in the Black Achievers Program at the Meredith Mathews East Madison YMCA practice a dance they choreographed during a workshop on the art of dance sponsored by the Seattle Theatre Group Saturday Oct. 11 at the first session of this years Black Achievers Program.
Photo by Susan Fried
The YMCA Black Achievers program is kicking off a new season with new community partners and new activities for gearing youth towards a positive future.
The career and college readiness program serves an estimated 500 young people with school help, mentoring and supervised activities after school and on weekends at Meredith Mathews East Madison YMCA, 1700 23rd Ave.
Last weekend, Senior Director Shomari Jones, and the youth and adult volunteers worked with the Seattle Theatre Group in a workshop around the art of dance.
Then the group trooped out to a performance of Afro-French dance company Heddy Maleem at the Moore Theatre.
Jones says the program is growing and branching out – with the help of more community volunteers.
"We do everything we can to as far as in the school, and on top of that we add to their out of school experience and readiness for life once they finish high school," he says.
The program was founded in 1971 in New York, with the goal of building a creative program helping kids of color become more successful in education and careers.
As the Black Achievers grew, it built a partnership with the YMCA, becoming a nationwide program.
Today there are more than 200 YMCA Black Achievers programs across the nation and around the world.
Jones says mostly the young people need guidance and direction.
"A lot of it is not really having the understanding of what's available, what resources are out there for them," he says. "When we see a lot of our kids struggling or not succeeding educationally, I think the most of it is the fact that they come from environments where they might not have people in the household who went to college or have much knowledge about going to college, or much knowledge about higher education or much knowledge about what the national standard of success looks like, so they grapple with those ideas of 'I can't make it, I can't do that.'
He says last weekend's dance workshop was a perfect example of what the kids face – and how they overcome it.
"We had some kids who wanted to be real hard core, and were standing on the side walls, saying, either, 'I'm too cool for this,' because that's what's feeding into their mind, or 'I don't think I can do that so I'm not going to participate,'" Jones says. "Until we got them all onto the floor and then they realized, this is doable, this is fun, this is exciting, this is amazing now.
"And so that's part of the issue, helping them get over their fears."
The Black Achievers' official activities and goals include group mentoring and life skills; college preparation; service learning; business tours and field trips; and social development.
The most effective way for young people to benefit by the program, Jones says, is when local community members volunteer an afternoon to describe their own stories about experiences in the college and business worlds.
"I'm always looking for people in the community who do have these successes and these success stories to volunteer their time, to maybe some of the classes in the school or to a weekend session," Jones says.
"Sometimes we have the need for community members to give back, in the capacity of just saying this is who I am and what I did," Jones says. "We need people who are working with some of these great job skills to step up and say, why don't you bring them here and we can do this incredible interactive thing that they're going to love."
He says the group also needs people to become individual mentors "and to take a kid on and pull them along with them and focus on that one kid."
For more information, call Jones at 206-322-6969 ext. 104, or email him at [email protected].
Interested families are encouraged to email or call Jones if they want to attend upcoming activities such as the celebration of the 70th anniversary of Blue Note Records, performances of "The Color Purple," "The Lion King," and McCoy Tyner, to name a few.